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Howard University Is Changing The Face Of STEM

Howard University Is Changing The Face Of STEM

Words: Jacqueline Lara

The HBCU wants more women in science, technology, engineering, and math, starting with its own faculty.

Diversity and gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields has been getting lots of attention—just look at the firestorm from #ilooklikeanengineer and NPR’s recent "Race on Tech" initiative. It’s no surprise that research shows women and Black people in STEM careers are most likely to leave the field due to gender and racial biases.  

In 2012, Howard University received a $3.4 million dollar ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Award from the National Science Foundation to advance the careers of women faculty in STEM. Howard University’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation project (HU ADVANCE-IT) has a mission to educate, advocate for, and empower women faculty members in the STEM disciplines at the university. Its goal is to increase the number of women faculty in full professorships and administration through recruitment, retention, and promotion.

With the start of the school year, HU ADVANCE-IT recently announced the launch of its “Rooted in STEM” social media campaign. The initiative highlights the university’s commitment to advancing the careers of women faculty members in STEM disciplines despite the challenges they face. According to the American Association of University Professors, men still hold more than three-quarters of full professorships in the United States, while women’s share of full professorships has increased only marginally over the last several decades. HU ADVANCE-IT wants to help change those numbers to level the playing field for women.

Sonya T. Smith, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor and the project’s principal investigator, is excited about the opportunity to promote diversity and retention at the University. “As a woman of color faculty member in STEM,” Smith says, “I am keenly aware of the challenges and rewards of being a part of this small group. The ADVANCE-IT award helps the University expand its efforts, while focusing the world's attention on our contributions, service, and scholarship to our respective fields of study and mankind.”

HU ADVANCE-IT’s “Rooted in STEM” campaign will capture, document, and make permanently visible the significant contributions women in STEM have historically made to their respective fields. Through video archives, HU ADVANCE-IT faculty will share personal experiences that attracted them to STEM, and what has kept them firmly planted in the field across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The public can add their voice to the campaign by using the hashtag #RootedinSTEM.   

Though the program is focused on Howard’s campus, it has overarching implications that will affect all of our lives.

For example, Smith is one of four team leads on a new $18.5 million Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS)—the ERC team will build new thermal cooling technologies for next generation power converters to prevent overheating. What does this mean for us in layman’s terms? Their work will prevent cell phones from overheating when you have a long conversation, as well as prevent power tools, vehicles, and plane engines from overheating and working less efficiently.

Additionally, HU ADVANCE-IT has worked tirelessly to address gender equality in STEM in South Africa as co-organizers of the upcoming Women in STEM Conference: South Africa (October 27-29, 2015).  The conference will address topics such as the similarities in professional trajectory among women in STEM in South Africa and in the United States.

“Our campaign is about changing the way we think, feel, and act in support of women and people of color in STEM—by raising visibility today about what can be, we inspire the next generation of innovators,” Smith says.

For more information about HU ADVANCE-IT, please visit www.huadvanceit.howard.edu/